Realtor building project scrapped

Fans of the Billy Goat Tavern no longer have to worry about where to get their fix of cheeseburgers and chips.

The National Association of Realtors  confirmed Tuesday it has scrapped a plan to raze its existing headquarters building on North Michigan Avenue and redevelop the block, a project that would have at least temporarily displaced Billy Goat Tavern from its longtime subterranean home.

Its partner on the potential project was never publicly identified but was widely believed to be BDT Capital Partners, which led a consortium that purchased the Wrigley building in 2011 and also owns the other parcel that would have been part of the project, bordered by Hubbard, Illinois and Rush streets and Wabash Avenue.

The association owns its building and would have occupied only 180,000 square feet of what could have been a 2 million-square-foot development.

It was the proposed legal structure of the redevelopment that prompted the trade group to walk away from the project, according to Bill Armstrong, the Realtors’ 2013 treasurer who has been involved in the discussions. The group would have had to legally transfer ownership of the building into a joint venture entity that would have been formed.

“We would  have to get zoning, permits, approval from special interest groups,” Armstrong said. “If any of that went south, it would have been difficult to unwind our asset. How do we get the building back?

“This is our biggest asset,” he continued. “We’re an organization that needs housing and this is our house. We can’t take the chance of losing it.”

In November, the association’s board voted to move forward with a preliminary plan to replace the 50-year-old building at 430 N. Michigan Ave., and the block directly to the west with building and plaza space that would have included a high-end hotel, condominiums, offices and stores.

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A redevelopment would have forced Billy Goat, which has been on lower Michigan Avenue underneath the Realtors’ building since 1964, to at least temporarily relocate.

The news caused a firestorm of support for the tavern, an institution immortalized on Saturday Night Live, and support for its owner, Sam Sianis. Under one scenario, the association would have temporarily moved the Billy Goat across the street, until the new tower was constructed.

“We were always mindful of Sam and the Sianis family,” Armstrong said.
A spokeswoman for BDT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

mepodmolik@tribune.com